My Cat Is Eating Litter - Causes & What to Do
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While the idea of eating anything which has touched our bodily waste is repulsive, we cannot apply the same human hygiene criteria to animals. For example, some animals practice coprophagia, the act of ingesting feces, for nutritional reasons. Although cats might eat various things we consider unsanitary, the act of eating litter from their litter box is not the behavior of a healthy feline. Any time a cat eats something non-nutritional, we should at least suspect something is negatively affecting their well-being.
At AnimalWised, we look at why your cat is eating litter. We look at the causes behind this behavior, how it affects the cat's health and what we can do to stop it.
Physical reasons your cat is eating litter
While it is not common, there are perhaps physical reasons why your cat is eating litter. Feline guardians will likely have seen their cat eat grass on occasion. Although it is not comprehensively understood why cats engage in this behavior, it is believed it can help aid digestion. It is also believed they eat grass when they are ill as the grass contains fiber and folic acid which can help with gastrointestinal issues.
Cats eating cat litter may have a similar reason behind it. When a cat suffers from nutritional deficiencies, they will be compelled to find these nutrients where they can. Although we might not think of our cat's litter as looking particularly tasty, there are some naturally occurring minerals in its composition. This will depend on the type of litter and what it is made from.
Most cat litter is made from mined clay minerals. These contain certain elements such as magnesium, sodium and iron. If a cat is suffering from a lack of iron, they are considered anemia. For this reason, a cat with anemia might eat their litter.
The main causes of anemia in cats varies significantly, considering it can stem from autoimmune disease, kidney failure or even blood loss. There are even types of infectious anemia which can affect cats. If our cat is eating cat litter and we think they may be suffering from a physical pathology (or for any reason), we need to take them to a veterinarian for diagnosis of the underlying cause.
Viral infections such as feline leukemia (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) can contribute to a cat eating cat litter as they try to respond to what their body needs. However, it is also possible their nutritional deficiencies stem from something more quotidian. If the cat is given an insufficient diet, they will look to supplement it any way they can. Cat guardians must provide a suitable diet for a cat specific to their needs, including age, weight and underlying health status.
Psychological reasons your cat is eating litter
When a cat is eating litter, we need to look at the context of this behavior. If they show other symptoms of physical illness, this might lead a veterinarian to diagnosing a physical pathology. The same can be said if they are showing signs of psychological problems. When a cat eats litter, they may feel compelled to do due for one of the following psychological reasons:
Pica syndrom in cats
When our cat is eating a lot of food, we worry about obesity or whether they are getting enough nutrition from their diet. If they are eating non-consumable items, then we might suspect they are suffering from pica syndrome. This is a psychological disorder which can cause serious problems to both their physical and mental well-being. It is perhaps most commonly seen when cats eat dirt, but eating litter is closely related.
There may be physiological reasons for pica. When cats or dogs lick metal, it is often to get missing nutrients such as iron into their body. More common is psychological distress. If a cat has suffered trauma or abuse in the past, they can develop pica. Pica is a type of stereotypy, a repetitive compulsive behavior which has no clear purpose. For whatever reason, eating litter helps the cat to cope with emotional trauma, even if it causes physical distress.
Cats which have come from shelters or have been found abandoned are more likely to have pica syndrome since they more often suffer abuse and neglect. However, being taken away from their mother too soon, poor socialization or other factors may contribute to this behavior.
Stress, anxiety or depression
Psychological problems in cats do not only stem from early life. While their developmental experience will influence how they respond to issues in adult life, they can also experience stress, anxiety or even depression for various reasons. Stress and anxiety can lead to various behavioral problems, including aggressiveness or destructiveness. Some symptoms of stress in cats are not as obvious, eating cat litter being one such example.
Since cats are animals of routine, any upset to said routine can be stressful. If their diet is changed suddenly, they have a traumatic experience or even we change our behavior it can result in anxiety. One of the biggest factors relates to changes in their environment. If we move house, bring a new family member or pet into the home or introduce any stressors into their environment, cats can become stressed.
Eating cat litter is a rare, but possible symptom of stress in cats. We should look at their day-to-day lives and examine where the stress originates and do what we can to eliminate it from their experience.
Boredom in cats
Boredom can be just as stressful for cats. If we observe symptoms of boredom in cats, we need to understand why they are understimulated. It may be due to neglect on our part. Cats need sufficient interaction to keep them physically and cognitively stimulated. How much stimulation they require depends on the individuals, but if their needs are not met, we can observe behavioral problems such as eating their litter.
Cats are very curious and generally love to play, scratch, chase and carry out other behaviors related to the feline hunting instinct. One of the best ways we can encourage this behavior in a healthy way is to provide better environmental enrichment. Scratching trees, toys, intelligence games and other environmental stimuli can help cats to become more engaged.
Curiosity in cats
As we stated above, cats are very curious animals. This is especially the case when they are kittens. Since cats use their mouths as a way of investigation their environment as much as they do their paws, we shouldn't be surprised if we see them chewing something they shouldn't. Cat litter can be particularly interesting to cats since it is designed to appeal to them.
In the vast majority of cases, cats will spit out cat litter if they start to eat it. There is little appealing flavor and it is usually something they will only try once. However, some cats may persevere and ingest some. For this reason, it is important we use non-toxic litter which is non-clumping, especially for kittens.
How to stop a cat eating litter
The way to stop cats carrying out any behavioral problem is to address its underlying cause. If the cat has suffered previous trauma, then we need to find ways to keep them calm, reassured and secure. Meeting their basic needs is an important first step, but we also need to show them they are safe by treating them calmly, avoiding stressful situations and providing them comfort.
If a cat is eating litter because they are bored, we need to address this also. Provide greater environmental enrichment and spend more time with them. Cats will need a minimum of 10 minutes per day of play with their guardian, but this doesn0t including petting and other bonding behaviors. Some cats will need more depending on their circumstances. We can even consider adopting a new cat into the family.
Regardless of the cause, we need to take the cat to a veterinarian to diagnose the reason they are eating cat litter. They will be able to run an assessment and carry out diagnostic tests to determine the reason. If we don't do this, we may miss out something which a professional wouldn't, including certain life-threatening illnesses.
How to prevent a cat from eating litter
There are also some general ways you can stop a cat eating litter in the first place:
- Basic needs: ensure all of their basic needs are met. This will help to maintain general health and well-being which can avoid many behavioral problems, including eating litter.
- Routine: ensure you are consistent with your cat and their routine. Do not change their feeding schedule capriciously and, if you do have to make a major change, ensure you do what you can to help them adjust.
- Change litter: since some cats may have a proclivity to eating a certain type of litter, choosing a different type of cat litter might solve the problem.
- Maintain hygiene: know how often you need to change the cat's litter and avoid accumulation of waste matter. This could be the reason for the cat's stress in the first place since they are very hygienic animals.
A cat's litter can point us to various behavioral problems in a cat's life. Since going to the toilet is so important for an animal's well-being, it is understandable it is a focal point for their issues. Look at our articles on why a cat sleeps in their litter box or why they excessively scratch their litter box to know more.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Cat Is Eating Litter - Causes & What to Do, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.